The Secret Society of Abakua has its origins in the diverse existing ethnicities in Nigeria (ekoi and efik), that were displaced to the Southeast of the territory and settled in the region located between Cameroon and the Western border of the Niger River, referred to as as Calabar. In the 16th century the Efik immigrated to the land of the Ibibio people, arraving in the Old Calabar, close to the mouth of the Cross River, before the slave treaty of 1668. In the 18th century, the Old Calabar was made up of small tribes (Ekoi, Kwa, Efut, Oru, Apapa, Bacoco) that communicated among themselves. The Efik modified their form of governance and adopted secret societies, among which was that of the Ekpe, an institution that as of 1760 allowed them to trade slaves among themselves.

In infrahuman conditions, slaves of diverse African ethnicities arrived to Cuba, and among them, the Abakua, who in previous centuries, were social entities that collected money with the aim of liberating their still enslaved brethren and helping their widows and children. Once in Cuba, the slaves organized themselves in cabildos, made official in 1755 by the bishop Morell of Santa Cruz. More than 18 cabildos of carabali origens gave rise to the organization of the lands and powers: Efor (Efori), Efik, Oru, Efo that today make up the Abakua Secret Society.

This society is more precisely a brotherhood with a magical religious character, exclusively for men that was established for the first time in Havana’s Regla port around 1812 by blacks of carabali origin. This religious phenomenon is only encountered in Cuba, in the provinces of Havana, Cárdenas and Matanzas.

The Secrety Society of Abakua possesses a rigorous organization among its members, who are known by the names of abakua or ñáñigos. Among their duties or positions are those called iremes that symbolize ancestral spirits. These ritual characters dress in suits with coats made out of jute adorned in cowbells, hoods and other accessories, and they are used at parties, initiations or at the death of a brother. When dancing or gesticulating, iremes are expressed by the movements made with their hands, feet, or the tips of the hood.

The great aesthetic beauty of this society is not only reflected in the body language, related to the dance, of the iremes, it is also reflected in the musical instruments and their signatures or anaforuanas (visual system of sacred systems) that enclose the true mystery that has lived on to our days.

Natalia Bolivar